Safeguards on Mission Orders

by
23 January 2008

by Glyn Paflin

THE House of Bishops has been advised that, under one of the proposed Bishop’s Mission Orders, it would be legal for a woman priest involved in a “fresh expression of Church” to preside at the eucharist in a parish (though not in its parish church) where Resolution A had been passed by the PCC.

A legal opinion, given by Stephen Slack, Sir Anthony Hammond, and Ingrid Slaughter, is printed at the back of Part V: Mission Initiatives Code of Practice, drawn up by the Bishops to accompany the Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure. The Code of Practice is to be debated by the General Synod next month.

The lawyers consider that Resolution A of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1993, which restricts the ministry of women priests, would not apply “beyond the ambit of the PCC’s control and specific responsibilities to areas (whether geographical or otherwise) which are not the concern of the PCC and where it is thus not for the PCC to ‘accept’ or ‘decline to accept’ the priestly ministry of a woman”.

In a parish where the PCC had passed Resolution C under the 1993 Act of Synod, the bishop exercising extended pastoral care “should be consulted” before the Mission Order is made. The bishop intending to make it is required to consult the parish priest of any parish affected. Where more than one is affected, he may consult the House of Clergy of the deanery synod as a whole. The consent of the clergy is not required. There are also other mandatory consultees.

The bishop can act at the request of others, or off his own bat, if he is satisfied that the initiative “would be likely to promote or further the mission of the Church”. “At the time of the granting of the Order, the common intention of the Bishop and the initiating group will be the development of a new community which has the potential to develop into a mature church.”

The bishop must designate a Visitor for the initiative, ordained or lay, who should have “substantive contact” with the initiative at least twice a year, and should report formally to the bishop at least every 18 months.

Worship and the administration of the sacraments will need “particularly careful consideration” in the framing of the Order, given their bearing on the developing community’s life and on relationships with a parish where the initiative is functioning.

The Visitor ensures that proper accounts are kept, and is available as the person to whom people can communicate anything they think he or she ought to know about the initiative. The review “should be seen as a type of regular ‘light touch’ and relatively informal appraisal. . . rather than an ‘evaluating and grading’ process, much less a process to ‘pass judgment’ on the initiative or its leader(s)”.

A Mission Order will initially be made for five years or less.

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